"Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom over me. And before I'd be a slave, I'd be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and Be Free."
Michael Coard hurried into the square of the Liberty Bell Center at 6th and Market Streets. His long-sleeved, white shirt and beige suit pants, while professional, looked a little overdressed for the above average temperature event. Coard, who is a local attorney and founder of the Avenging the Ancestor's Coalition, was one of the last presentators to arrive, which was odd because he was also the one leading the rally. No problem though, as Pam Africa had his back. Fresh off the energy of the Free Mumia rally, which happened only minutes earlier directly across the street, Africa, member of the Pan-Africanism movement MOVE, had already taken the stage, laying down hard truths about the meaning of the 4th of July. Once Coard got his self together, he apologized profusely for being tardy and told the dozens in attendance that the program would begin shortly. In the meantime, Bro. Farugh had taken to the mic to properly administer libation for the ancestors, and requested, in traditional form, that we call out the names of those whom should not be forgotten. I called out great-grandmother, Marian Catherine Guess. Ashe. We stood only feet a few feet away from what would be the new site for the Presidents House, a tribute center to America's first White House. On the far side of the construction site, where lines of people waiting in the shade to walk past one of America's most defining symbols of freedom - the Liberty Bell. The weather forecast for the Monday following the Sunday the 4th, would have Philly sitting ugly in the upper 90s - that day proved that the forecast was way already behind schedule. It was hard not to concentrate on anything other than the heat. As I wiped the sweat that began to accumulated behind my ear, I realized for some folks, the idea of standing in the grass with the hot, blazing sun beaming down their backs, may have seem like a chore - especially if it meant leaving the comforts of an air conditioning home. But then I thought of my ancestors, who masked labored once passed through the very grass I had been stepping on. Those ancestors that slaved from birth to death and sun up to sun down, so that many of the signers of the Constitution could be considered "great." I realized then that I had an obligation to be here. Last year at the 3rd annual Avenging The Ancestor Coalition (ATAC) Rally outside The Liberty Bell, I pledge then not to ever celebrate a holiday in which its symbolisms of freedom from tyranny did not originally include my own ancestors. That faithful day would come well over 100 years later (see post entitled Juneteenth Day: To Early to celebrate). No there would be no fireworks after the Welcome America Concert for me or staging of Bar-B-Ques neither. This rally to finally emancipate the nine enslaved people by George Washington would be my only celebration for the day and I was going to tough this heat out no matter what.
Before the students at the School of the Future could stir emotion with their rousing performance of Oh Freedom, Coard laid out the importance of the annual event, which initial began to protest the planned construction of the new Liberty Bell Pavilion on the same hollow grounds of the living quarters for the Washington Nine. This accidental discovered happened in 2002, when archeologist, working on behalf of the National Park Services and the Independent National Historic Parks, unearth some ornaments of the "stable slaves" during a search of the site of America's First White House. Initially, the findings were going to be swept under the proverbial rug by the National Park Services, who wanted to go ahead with plans for both the Pavilion and the President House (which would be a replica of the first country's first White House - without the slave quarters of course) as originally proposed. But after years of protest, writing letters, forcing meetings and negative attention in the press from around the country, the members of ATAC were able to persuade the Park Service that it was in its best interest to create a memorial next to the planned President House. The discovery as well as attempts to disguise a portion of America's tortured history, once again reminded us of the hypocrisy that exist in the so-called bastion of freedom.
"In order to pass through the halls of freedom, you had to pass over the hells of slavery,” said Coard to a rousing applause and head nods. I nodded my head too.
Standing amongst the rainbow colored black faces, I was reminded that not nearly enough of us (black folks) were present to pay fitting tribute. Too many of us were eating bar-b-que, waving American flags in parades or sleeping the day away in anticipation of the nighttime festivities along the Parkway. Perhaps it’s just too much of a burden for us to remember the hardship that our ancestors had endured. I was also reminded of several conversations from folks earlier that week through Facebook about the necessity to not only remember but to use what we learn from history to uplift our people in today's society. Those conversations have always been met with resistance and a force denial from those that would rather try and "get over it," than face the reality that we as a people are still in it. Rarely do these folks draw a correlation between the crimes of in the past and what is the state of the black community today. Yes, many of our folks, particularly those of the lower income bracket, continue to wade through slave-like oppression. From the prison industrial complex to targeted predatory lending, to toxic environmental hazards dumping in overwhelmingly black communities, to not being afforded a decent education opportunity to racial profiling and so forth and so on.
"It is not just slavery but the inability to come to terms with the excuses of slavery," said Immortal Technique, underground hip-hop artist and activist. "For us, there were always excuses that was given after slavery, which created racism. The excuses that somehow we were lesser than other people, that somehow we were the missing link between man and monkey, eugenics came in to say that we were racially inferior. People said that we were three-fifths of a man, how can we possibly be three-fifth when we were the original man” I nodded my head again, this time throwing in a few Amens.
I stood there, in the blazing hot sun, listening to Joe Mitchell, Harvard graduate attorney and sure fire, look-alike for President Barack Obama, as he reads the names of those nine enslaved people, who would be symbolically freed on this day through proclamation. I glance across the street at the Tea Party rally (see post: Do you want some Tea with that Whine), who were holding their own salute to the signers of the Constitution. I wondered if the Tea Partiers would pause and hold a moment of silence for the millions of slaves, whose own freedom was stunted by the three-fifth compromise. Would they salute and wave the flag for Austin, Christopher Shields, Giles, Hercules, Joe, Maul, Onie Judge, Paris, Richmond and the 316 others enslaved by George Washington?
"The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. — The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth July is yours, not mine," said Fawaaz Fields, reading the words of famous words of Frederick Douglas in The Meaning of July Fourth to the Negro.
As I headed back underground for the El train back towards the direction of Center City, I left with the sad realization that the emancipation had come hundreds of years too late for the Washington nine. And this symbolic gesture of freedom, while great in spirit, would be ignored by the ears of those, who were too caught up in parades, flag waving and barb-b-ques here the truth about the cost of America’s freedom. I paid my fare, sat down on the train seat by the window and began reading my book, Slave Girl by Buchi Emecheta.